¡Apruebo! I vote Yes! 7.5 million people turned out to voice their desire for a Chilean constitution based on democracy this past Sunday. 51% voted, despite the hurdle of the corona virus. The present Magna Carta of Chile was written and ratified by Dictator Pinochet in 1980. At the groundbreaking plebiscite on 25 October, 78% of voters approved the process for a new constitution! That was question #1. The second question was who would attend the constitutional congress; a “mixed” congress half of them senators and half regular citizens or a “pure” congress only of elected citizens. The Chileans chose the all elected citizens option.
I read a conservative Chilean paper that insinuated that the people didn’t understand what a mixed congress meant. Well, it seems clear that general populace did, however they didn’t want the present legislature with strong ties to the former dictatorship and role in the pervasive economic inequality to make decisions for them. A liberal Chilean newspaper posited that the choice was a referendum against the Piñera government. The Latin American press is talking about the Chilean President’s disapproval rating, a cypher close to the 78% of the referendum.
This new progression toward representative democracy is a direct result of the protests in October 2019. Changing the constitution was a main demand of Chilean protestors in the unrest one year ago. (See this article I wrote last October.) Chileans who spoke up in the Chile has Awoken (Chile Despertó) movement pushed for articles about education and health care to be added to a new Constitution.
The government had postponed the plebiscite from April to October, due to Covid-19. When the pandemic worsened over time, people began to worry that the event would be postponed again, or indefinitely. Happily, the administration planned to go forward with the date. US take note, Chile organized amazing outdoor voting locations. (It is summer there.) People stood in line, socially distanced, wearing masks. The lines went down the block. Chileans were patient and determined to vote. In public service announcements prior to the plebiscite, voters were asked to wear a mask and bring their own blue pen to mark their ballot.
Older adults had waited decades for this chance to effect change. Think of the years without complete democracy in Chile. We could say from1973-1990. However, after Pinochet’s Constitution in 1980, how could there be true democratic representation in the legislature? Pinochet appointed himself Senator for life. Worse, the dictator’s constitution has held Chile back until the present day. Forty years after he penned its pages, the undemocratic constitution stands, with 53 revisions. That was until Sunday, when the Chileans decided to stop putting correction fluid on the flawed document and start fresh. 25 October may become a Chilean national holiday, El Día de la Democracia (Democracy Day).
This exciting new chapter will begin next April 2021, when 155 citizen representatives will be elected. It is momentous that the Chilean Constitutional Congress will be the first in history to have gender parity, half the representatives will be men and half women. I hope citizens from each region and many different walks of life seek to represent Chile in the Constitutional Congress. They will have nine months with a possible three month extension to create the text of the constitution. Once 103 of the 155 members agree on the document, then it goes to a national vote in 2022.
This exciting Chilean news has brought me such joy. Sunday night when I found out the Apruebo/I Approve won, I wept I was so moved. Our friends and Chileans have a chance to live in peace, prosperity and celebrate life. This is the best news all year.
¡Felicidades al pueblo chileno! Congratulations to the people of Chile! ¡Olé! –Rebecca